You may have noticed the images on our website have changed. There were a couple of reasons for this, first, we really have never liked the imagery on the website. When we purchased the website in 2008, it came with the images. But, they were pretty small, and out of date, even then. One of the comments we received on our survey was about the poor images. It was something we've recognized, but have never really had the time to deal with properly. Then, a couple of months ago, we got THE letter. Basically it is an extortion letter. A cease and desist. The email said we had an Unauthorized use of Cephas Picture Library Ltd Image.
It is the same form email you can get from Getty Images and half a dozen other image services. But they say:
It has come to our attention that an image or images represented exclusively by **Insert Image Company Here** are being used or have been used for online promotional use by your company and without permission. According to our records there is no valid license issued to your company for use of the image(s).
Then they include a screen shot of the offending image and proceed to demand an enormous sum of money.
I'd never heard of Cephas and I had absolutely no idea the image in question was "stolen". One of the clauses of the contract in purchasing the website was that all images and content was fully licensed and transferred to us. I responded to them and told them just that.
They came back with:
Liability rests with the party displaying the content even if a third-party designer, employee, contractor intern or former owner designed and developed your company’s website. You are responsible to ensure they have licensed images for use on your website.
In doing further research, we found out that licenses don't transfer and what's more they can EXPIRE! So, if you have a designer do your website, and they purchased the images, unless they buy the images in your name, you do not "own" them. That means you can not use them. If you think it isn't a big deal, take a look at this article: Court Awards Maximum Statutory Damages for Copyright Infringement.
We were extremely lucky - the image they were questioning was one we had purchased, way back in 2008, and had a license for. It was a royalty free image. But it was a wake up call to make sure ALL of our images were compliant.
Getty is now allowing users to use their images for free, but there are a couple of caveats - 1)you have to embed the information they give you on your site and 2)you can't use the image for commercial use. Basically, that means if you are making money from your website, it is commercial.
So, what to do? We recommend Fotolia. They have very good pricing and beautiful images. We also use www.istockphoto.com. They have a better selection of images than Fotolia, but they are also a bit more pricey. You can buy credits at both places, as you need them. Keep a spreadsheet, or document, where you document the license information. We also take screen shots. That way you can be sure to have the information if someone contacts you later!
If you have images on your website that you personally did not take, and you don't have a license for, you are in danger of getting one of these letters. Now is the time to go through your marketing materials, websites, and anything you might have with images and make sure you can PROVE that you are allowed to use the images.